Roast Left in Crockpot Overnight (Is it Safe?)


Crockpots are one of the best creations of the modern era. They make cooking meals easier than they’ve been in centuries and with much less time sitting and watching a pot, it leaves us free to do other things and still have warm food ready for us. However, can you leave a roast to cook in the crockpot overnight?

It is safe to cook a roast in the crockpot overnight. However, it is not safe to keep a roast in the crockpot overnight if the heat is off. Bacteria forms during this time and the food will go bad. It is recommended to leave food in a crockpot on the warm function for no more than two hours.

Homemade slow cooker pot roast with carrots and potatoes
Homemade slow cooker pot roast with carrots and potatoes

Cooking can involve so many different things and it is important to know both the rules and the guidelines to help crockpot cooking, slow cooking, and meal prep safe and fun, and keep everyone fed and happy, especially when it comes to determining if a food is safe after being left out.

Keep Warm Overnight

Crockpots have a handy dandy feature called the keep warm function. This function keeps the Crockpot heated for up to two hours so the food inside remains warm and ready to eat. This only works well if it’s for the recommended two hours as leaving something in the crockpot past this recommendation increases the risk of food-borne illness and bacteria being more prevalent in the meal.

Irish Stew or Guinness Stew made in a crockpot or slow cooker
Irish Stew or Guinness Stew made in a crockpot or slow cooker

It would be just as concerning, if not more, with a meat dish seeing as bacteria can form much easier and more deadly in meat than in other meals. While these are things that are useful to note, it is also important to remember that while most people wouldn’t and shouldn’t feel comfortable with eating food that was left in a crockpot on warm overnight, that doesn’t dictate what you do personally.

If you feel comfortable eating the prepared food after it was kept this way for more than eight hours, it is up to you to entertain the risk of making yourself and potentially others ill. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Cooking Overnight

Cooking a dish in a crockpot overnight is actually an ingenious way to cook a meal with little effort. Crockpots and other slow cookers were designed with ease in mind. One of the most common uses of the crockpot is for longer times set for cooking meals. All it takes is up to an hour of prep time, and then you can leave it and run errands, go to events, and do other things that might require someone to be away from home and then be able to come back to fresh, warm food.

Slow cooker beef and vegetables soup with kidney beans and rice
Slow cooker beef and vegetables soup with kidney beans and rice

Most roast recipes take between four to eight hours. This means that it could be perfect to make and cook overnight. Before one would go to bed, they would do all the prep required for the recipe to be a success and then set it to cook over a period of eight hours or so, depending on how much sleep they would get, and make sure to have the crockpot on low.

It would then be recommended, especially since roast is most often a dinner meal, to wake up the next morning and place all of the crockpot meal into the refrigerator where it can safely await reheating for a warm and well-prepared dinner.

Some people might be concerned that this is a fire hazard since leaving appliances working during the night can sometimes increase the risk of an electrical fire or an electrically started fire. The good news that way is that crockpots were specifically built and designed in a way that the chances of those hazards actually happening are slim. Making sure to cook the roast on low will reduce that risk even more than it already is as well as keep the food from cooking prematurely and burning. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Leaving a Crockpot Turned Off Overnight

Leaving any sort of meal out in a crockpot overnight without the crockpot being on runs higher risks than if the crockpot were on. This would not be advisable under any circumstance and it would be wise just to toss the food if this were to happen by accident.

When food is left between 40ºF and 140º F, this is called the danger zone for a variety of foods, specifically those that require preparation and cooking in order to be edible. During this window, it is a hot zone for bacteria growth and those bacteria can be extremely toxic to humans who ingest the food.

Meat is especially susceptible to unfriendly bacterial growths that would make people sick. It’s why when handling raw meats, there are so many rules and guidelines on how well to cook the meat, cleaning the workspace, and not doing anything to cause cross-contamination. This means that a meat dish such as a roast left in a crockpot that is not on overnight is a bad idea.

It is not safe to eat after being left out for more than two hours without being refrigerated properly, and even keeping it on the keep warm function is not recommended since it would have to be above 140ºF to truly be safe and keep the bacteria from having a place to grow and cultivate. The crockpot likely won’t do that. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Storing a Roast

Storing meat is not something to be taken lightly. Storing it safely is always a huge part of preparing the meat and using it safely. Storing raw meat isn’t too much of a puzzle. It should be stored in the refrigerator for no more than three days before it is either used and then frozen or simply frozen.

With a meal such as a roast, it is important to put it into the refrigerator as leftovers or as a full meal while it is waiting for reheating. Typically, meals like this can last up to five days in the refrigerator. If they’re intended to last longer, freezing them and storing them in the freezer will be more important and those can last up to a month, although it is recommended to use them within two weeks, frozen or not.

In the refrigerator, the container the roast meal is put in doesn’t matter much so long as it fits and is closed and sealed properly it’ll keep the food fresh and ready for a leftovers meal or a good lunch. I like to divide leftovers up into two or three smaller square plastic containers for lunches and sometimes a larger one if I’m feeding more than just myself.

As for in the freezer, it is important to remember that when objects get cold or hot to the extremes, they encounter something called thermal expansion. Things that are heated will expand, and things that are cold will actually contract. This noted, if we place a glass dish of any kind in the freezer, it is more likely to explode and cause the food to be inedible. Using plastic food bags or plastic boxes is safer and more space-efficient.

Meat Safety Regulations

The safety regulations for cooking meat are extensive for a reason. Bacterial growth will happen no matter what and knowing how to handle the meat, cook it properly, and store it properly so that the bacteria doesn’t grow as fast and the meat can provide the nutrition it should to those who eat the meat are all parts of the safety regulations purpose.

As mentioned before, from 40ºF to 140ºF is considered the danger zone for food temperature. Food left in this zone of temperature for more than two hours has bacteria that start to grow at a rapid rate. Keeping the food above or below this temperature zone of danger will ensure that bacteria won’t grow and keep the food safe for eating. If not, this food becomes toxic and will make people sick if they eat it.

This is commonly referred to as food poisoning and most times other bacterial illnesses are caused by improper heating, cooking, and storing of food. One of the most common is salmonella, and any one of these bacterial-related illnesses can be avoided just as much as they can become deadly to anyone. It’s why this is such an important step in any meal prep. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Killing Potential Bacteria By Reheating

One of the most common ways to kill the bacteria found in food after it has been left out or in the fridge for a while is to reheat it. While most of the time we reheat things because they taste better when they’re warm, it’s also a way for the heat to kill off the bacteria that would be harmful to us.

In order to ensure that upon reheating, the roast doesn’t have any bacteria, it is vital to heat the roast to the proper internal temperature to cook the meat. Each type of meat has its own proper internal temperature that will tell more than any color or juice will be able to say that it is done cooking.

There’s no way to know for sure if the bacteria were killed properly, and some bacteria can’t even be killed by the higher heat. It’s best to just watch when the meal was placed in the fridge or freezer and eat it before it can go bad. When reheating, make sure to reheat to the correct internal temperature. Microwaving is a fast and easy way to do this, but might not actually get all of the spots inside of a meal, leaving behind potential hotspots of bacteria. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Cooking a Roast

Everyone will have their own method of cooking a roast, but no one way is always going to be correct. Even crockpot cooking isn’t the only way to cook a roast. There are so many different methods and they might work better for someone who might be afraid of accidentally leaving food out.

Beef stew in a slow-cooker, ready to serve
Beef stew in a slow-cooker, ready to serve

The crockpot was still a new invention not too long ago and was followed closely behind by things like an air fryer and an instant pot. While an air fryer wouldn’t be something to cook a roast in, an instant pot would also be worth the investment. They use a similar process as the crockpot does.

A crockpot will slow cook the roast over a longer period of time and will usually leave it moist and delicious. If it’s overcooked, the meat will be drier and less juicy. An instant pot pressure cooks everything. The instant pot is definitely faster and can be set for delayed cooking, leaving the food moist and ready to eat when the timer goes off.

If there isn’t a family recipe for roast that you like to use, there are plenty on the internet for slow cookers and pressure cookers alike. The most efficient way to do a slow cooker roast meal for a dinner is usually to prepare it during the morning and get it all set and ready to cook while you are out doing your daily business.

Sometimes, that might not be an option due to a busy morning. If the recipe calls for enough time between the actual cook start time and when the meal is finished, you could reasonably leave it cooking overnight. This is usually best on a low heat, which elongates the cooking time already present since it will be at a lower heat. As a suggestion, starting a roast meal the night before and then boxing it up into the refrigerator first thing in the morning will make dinner time a breeze. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Being able to reheat food or have food ready to go at dinner time or any mealtime really is such a benefit for a variety of reasons and being able to do it safely is always preferable to alternatives. If you’re not sure about cooking overnight, don’t do it. Do what you can to meal prep, including making meals and freezing them in advance as an alternative to cooking the day of or night before. Remember to keep up with the food safety regulations for your safety and health.

Anna Silver

Anna Silver is the principal creator of CookForFolks.com, a website dedicated to new go-to original recipes. Inspired by her grandmother’s love of cooking, Anna has a passion for treating the people in her life to delicious homemade food and loves to share her family recipes with the rest of the world.

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